Enough debate: These are the best teen dramas of all time
If Glee triggers your fight or flight response, look away now
There’s just something about teen dramas, isn’t there? We love an adult workplace comedy. We love a bunch of nosy mums coming together to solve a crime. We love gobby kids wreaking havoc at The Dumping Ground. But of all the age groups, it’s the teens that draw us back in time and time again when we need something to binge.
What is it about that period that keeps us coming back for more? There’s something comforting about a show with characters walking the corridors of a high school that never feels a million miles away from your own experience. And it never seems to matter if they’re battling bullies, vampires or having too much money they don’t have enough time to spend it… we’re with them for the ride.
We’ve meticulously compiled our 10 faves after lengthy debate and somewhat lengthy fisticuffs, and this is it. The top 10 teen dramas of all time:
10. The Vampire Diaries (2009-2017)
Vampires were having their little era in the late 00s. Twilight fever still raged through the teen generation and telly execs knew that what we hungered for was not blood like its titular vamps Stefan and Damon, but teen drama with a bit of bite. Everyone was hankering after that spooky girl-falls-for-vampire narrative and The Vampire Diaries really hit the sweet spot back in 2009.
Despite its naff scripts, shoddy acting and well worn plot that ripped off many superior shows and films of its kind, TVD made stars of its outrageously gorgeous main cast and boasted an impressive eight season run.
Best bit: Every time Bonnie shows how powerful a witch she is
Worst bit: Stefan and Damon’s tedious macho bravado.
9. 90210 (2008-2013)
THEE late 00s reboot to end all reboots. The OG Beverly Hills, 902010 was hugely popular in its 10 season run between 1990-2000 and the CW network’s reboot helped the next generation fall in love with the chaotic teen crises in America’s richest neighbourhood.
It was ridiculous, soap opera style, wealthy CHAOS and we lapped up every single episode.
Best bit: The entire plot line of Naomi VS. the evil Mr. Cannon
Worst bit: Naomi getting arrested about once a week
8. Gossip Girl (2007-2012)
XOXO, Gossip Girl.
Life was just better when Gossip Girl was airing. The carnage of Manhattan’s bitchy elite had us hooked for five seasons and had us feverishly trying to unravel its mysteries. There was something that felt so unattainable about Gossip Girl – it was just escapism at its finest. A reboot is airing on HBO this July, with Kristen Bell returning as the Gossip Girl narrator.
Best bit: The ridiculous way that the show just stopped mentioning that the characters were in college past season four
Worst bit: The fact that Nate was an Editor-in-Chief at the age of 21
7. Veronica Mars (2004-2007)
Whilst never a huge ratings success, there was something special about Rob Thomas’s Veronica Mars that made it a cult hit.
Its three seasons were critically acclaimed for a reason – and it made a star out of Kristen Bell who played the titular role. Telling the story of a high school-come-college girl who moonlights as a private investigator, its fun and easily digestible weekly small plot mysteries make it such a great one to binge.
Definitely one of the most unique teen dramas on this list.
Best bit: Veronica finally solving the mystery of who killed her best friend Lilly
Worst bit: Too much time faffing with romance. Get to the mysteries!
6. Pretty Little Liars (2010-2017)
The theme tune gives me shivers just thinking about it. The last time the world was ever fully united is when we all banded together to find out who ‘A’ was.
Great cast, stupid dramas, an engaging mystery and Holly Marie Combs – the iconic queen from Charmed. The recipe for a classic.
Best bit: It literally peaks at the theme tune but when the theme tune’s this good, who cares?
Worst bit: The final episode. Let’s just pretend it didn’t happen
5. Sex Education (2019 – present)
God, this show is so bloody good.
It’s the kind of TV you wish was airing when you were 15 and feeling angsty. All these sexual discovery, coming of age feelings and no clue what to do with them. It’s so good because it never once patronises its audiences. Teen drama written by people who just get it. The cast are great and the whole thing feels so diverse and just bursting with energy and vibrancy.
Also, Gillian Anderson is in it. End of.
Best bit: Aimee’s bus storyline and all the girls rallying behind her
Worst bit: The fact it isn’t on every single day of the week
4. Glee (2009-2015)
Okay. Hear me out.
Yes, it’s cursed. Yes, we laugh about how if Glee was airing now we’d have to endure a horrible version of WAP. Yes, Mr Schue should be jailed and never be allowed near children again. It’s a proper mess.
But it’s our mess. For our generation, I’d struggle to find a more watched teen drama. Glee was a cultural PHENOMENON. It still is. We all spent lockdown binging it again, albeit this time to recoil in horror, but the point still stands. We still revisit it.
It unlocks suppressed memories in the best way – and isn’t that what a good teen drama does?
Best bit: The Madonna episode is literally perfection
Worst bit: Mr Schue rapping The Thong Song at Emma whilst we all watched in powerless horror
3. It’s A Sin (2021)
Not your average teen drama, but it undoubtedly is one.
2021’s best telly so far is arguably the most important teen drama on this list. It’s a story of the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s yes, but it’s also a coming of age story about a group of young queer people finding their chosen family and their sanctuary.
It’s the TV you want to show to all queer teens struggling with who they are – both to help educate them on our LGBTQ history, but also to show them that it doesn’t matter if you’re from a small, Tory suburb where you feel alone. Your people are out there waiting for you.
Best bit: The icon that annihilates Keeley Hawes in the hospital canteen
Worst bit: There isn’t one
2. Misfits (2009-2013)
Misfits was the most inventive and exciting export for British teen dramas of the 00s.
There was simply nothing like this on telly. A brilliant concept, a bunch of delinquents having to do community service get caught in a freak storm that turns them into superheroes, is really all you need for success.
The cast were amazing. The storylines and villains were amazing. Everything felt so sharp and witty, and it genuinely managed to pack a terrifying twist and punch in. The tension of the pilot episode still manages to scare to this day.
Best bit: The reveal of who the mysterious man in the biker helmet is
Worst bit: That weird guy who’s superpower was … controlling milk
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
The one and only. It simply will never, ever, be bettered.
The thing that makes Buffy so successful as teen dramas go is it really does have it all. The teen problems are there, but they live alongside characters that feel so comforting and relatable despite the fact they’re spending every episode battling vampires and demons.
It flips between genres as easy as turning a page in a book, and is successful at every one. Heartbreak and horror go hand in hand in Sunnydale – and the cast sell the hell out of it. The fashion is a banquet of late 90s/early 00s bliss. Buffy made a name for herself as not just a pop culture icon, but a feminist one too – and someone that all young viewers could idolise.
Joss Whedon created the show off the line “high school is hell” – and in Buffy that was literally and figuratively. But when Buffy and co. graduated and grew into young adults, the show set itself apart from other teen dramas by successfully graduating from a high setting to an adult one, and allowed its audiences to grow with it.
If you’ve never watched it, press play right now.
Best bit: Literally every episode is the best bit but, if we HAVE to pick, it’s the musical episode of season six
Worst bit: None! (Okay, that stupid episode where Buffy drinks beer and reverts to being a cavewoman is the worst bit)
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